Today, Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist caught repeatedly on video calling the American public “stupid” and saying deception was essential to pass Obamacare, was dragged before the House Oversight Committee for a grilling. But he was a stand-in for the real culprit: President Obama. Lying about the health law originated at the top. In 2008, candidate Barack Obama promised that he, unlike his rivals, would not “force” Americans to buy health insurance. But that’s what Obamacare does.
Gruber will soon be in the historic dustbin of rogues. But the Obama administration is still lying to defend its unpopular law.
Just last week, in two major announcements, Obama’s top health officials claimed the Affordable Care Act is slowing health care spending and improving hospital safety. The media parroted these boasts, but the evidence shows they’re bogus.
On December 3, federal actuaries reported that health spending inched up only 3.6 percent in 2013. Medicare Chief Marilyn Tavenner boasted that it’s “evidence that our efforts to reform the health care delivery system are working.” Sorry, not true. That 3.6 percent figure is an improvement only by a hair. The slowing of health care spending started before Obamacare passed. After two decades of health spending increases of 7.4 percent a year, spending growth slowed to a comfortable 3.8 percent in 2009 and stayed almost that low in 2010.
In 2010, Obama didn’t want anyone to notice that health spending was growing at the slowest rate in a half-century. To pass his health bill, he needed a crisis. So he and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius repeatedly lied, warning that costs were “skyrocketing,” spending was “spiraling” out of control and health needs would gobble up ever more GDP unless Congress quickly passed the Affordable Care Act.
Fast-forward, and there is nothing remarkable about the 3.6 percent rate in 2013. But there is bad news ahead. Federal actuaries predict health spending increases will nearly double soon, averaging 6 percent a year through 2023 and raising health spending to a staggering 19.3 percent of GDP, up from 16.6 percent before Obamacare.
So much for Obamacare controlling costs. Is it true that the president’s health law is making hospitals safer? Don’t bet on that either.
On December 2, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced “demonstrable progress” in making hospital care safer. Her report claims that some 50,000 fewer patients died from infections, errors and other mishaps from 2010 to 2013, largely due to new payment incentives and a patient safety program in Obamacare. That happy claim was repeated verbatim by the media.
But Dr. Peter Pronovost, senior vice president at Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Dr. Ashish Jha of the Harvard School of Public Health had already warned in the New England Journal of Medicine that “it’s nearly impossible to tell” whether the patient safety program’s changes “led to better care.”
Worse, the Obama administration bragged about reducing infections but didn’t count the type of infection that kills the most patients, Clostridium difficile. That’s like a kid’s report card that leaves out reading and math. It doesn’t tell the whole story. Truth is, C. diff is raging through hospitals, killing 14,000 patients a year and increasing the risk of death by 75 percent.
Finagling data is nothing new for this administration. Just weeks ago, it was caught red-handed inflating Obamacare enrollment numbers by counting dental plans.
Gruber’s testimony mostly dodged the committee’s angry questions. But one of his comments will be scrutinized in coming months, even perhaps by the Supreme Court. The issue is whether the Obama administration is breaking the law by offering subsidies in the 36 states that did not set up their own insurance exchanges. In January 2012, Gruber said those subsidies couldn’t be offered there. But today he lied to protect the administration, claiming his earlier statement was speculating that the administration “might not create a federal exchange.”That’s an impossibility under the law. Sec. 1321 states that the secretary “shall” set up “such exchange” — something Gruber clearly knows.
More proof that Gruber is just a cog in the White House lie machine.
Betsy McCaughey Ph.D. is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.